Seattle: Erik Lamela and Ezequiel Lavezzi scored two minutes apart early in the first half, Victor Cuesta scored his first international goal later in the half and Argentina dominated Bolivia 3-0 on Tuesday night to win Group D of the Copa America.
Argentina star Lionel Messi subbed on at the beginning of the second half for his most extensive game action since Barcelona beat Sevilla 2-0 to win the Copa del Rey on 22 May.
In the time since, Messi suffered a back injury, testified in his tax fraud trial in Spain and scored a hat trick off the bench in a 5-0 win over Panama last week.
But the goals came from his teammates as Argentina — the only team in the tournament to win all three group games — clinched a matchup with Venezuela in the quarterfinals.
Argentina is in search of its first major international championship since winning the Copa America in 1993.
Bolivia last beat Argentina in 2009, but that victory came at 12,000 feet at home in La Paz. At sea level in Seattle, the Bolivians stood no chance.
The closest Messi came to finding the net was a free kick from 30 yards early in the second half that teased the far post but didn't curl enough. Bolivia's Diego Bejarano was Messi's shadow, ignoring anyone else in white with the ball and focusing just on No 10.
Messi's best moment came in the 77th minute when he was flagged for offside, but continued the play long enough to nutmeg Bolivian goalkeeper Carlos Lampe as he dribbled around the penalty area.
Bolivia played with a defensive posture all night, but it held for all of 13 minutes until Lamela's free kick deflected off the back of Yasmani Duk and left Lampe moving the wrong direction as the shot found the net.
Two minutes later, Gonzalo Higuain headed down a cross that was saved by Lampe, but directed right to Lavezzi who pounded the loose ball into the goal.
And Argentina capped its dominant first half when Lavezzi picked up an assist as his cross on next was redirected by Cuesta's toe for his first international goal.
Bolivia didn't even attempt to play possession, simply clearing balls out of its own end anytime a pass escaped Argentina's feet. Argentina had 81 percent of the possession in the first half and the only time goalkeeper Sergio Ramos was asked to even move was on the few free kicks Bolivia lofted into the penalty box.
Argentina completed 357 passes in the first half; Bolivia completed 38.
And all that dominance came with Messi relaxing on the bench, hearing his name chanting by the crowd throughout the first half as they eagerly anticipated the chance to see the best player of this generation coming off a memorable reserve performance just a few days earlier against Panama.
Updated Date: Jun 15, 2016 10:45 AM